Cultivating Professionalism through an Interdisciplinary Service-Learning Project
Mary Jane Eisenhauer, Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education, Purdue University North Central In what ways do undergraduate pre-professionals develop essential behaviors, dispositions and skills through service-learning? Faculty from a nursing program and early childhood teacher education program examine the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary service-learning and explore the ways in which professional standards and behaviors are promoted when students engage in a collaborative project to support young children and their families begin kindergarten with a focus on health and wellness.
“In play, children are a head taller” (Vygotsky, 1978). In service-learning, pre-professionals are also a head taller, meaning they have the opportunity to behave as if they are professionals. This collaborative service-learning project offers nursing and early childhood education students the context in which to try on the different roles, explore behaviors and practice skills that are vital to their future career. This presentation highlights a unique interdisciplinary service-learning project at a midsize public institution. Countdown to a Healthy Start is a collaborative project engaging nursing and early childhood education students at Purdue University North Central enrolled in NUR 389: Family Health Assessment and EDCI 276: Child, Family, School & Community Partnerships. The faculty members, in partnership with area early childhood agencies, co-constructed a semester long service-learning project to meet the needs of families as they enter the formal elementary school environments. The collaboration is focused on supporting positive relationships with families to foster children’s healthy development as one factor for school readiness. Specifically, students from nursing and early childhood education design create and implement interactive workshops to support families preparing to transition from child care and/or preschool settings to elementary school. Countdown to a Healthy Start is student-driven: as pre-professionals, the Purdue University North Central undergraduates are involved in all aspects of decision-making for the project as part of their respective course work. The nursing students focus on the community health issues and the early childhood students concentrate on the family/school/community partnerships. Students serve as peer coaches to inform one other about health and wellness, including strategies for incorporating this into early childhood settings. As part of their academic work, the nursing students teach the early childhood students about the issues of childhood obesity, sleep habits, immunizations and disease prevention. Early childhood students teach the nursing students about working within school and community settings. A key component for this joint effort is to promote professional behaviors and foster collegiality among the pre-professionals. The faculty who teach these courses will explore the concept of professionalism as defined by their respective disciplines and identify strategies to reinforce these behaviors during the service-learning experience. The role of the students, faculty and community partners in nurturing, practicing and evaluating professional behaviors will be examined. At a time when health care and education are experiencing rapid change, service-learning projects like Countdown to a Healthy Start offers an opportunity for pre-professionals to acquire requisite skills and take on the role of being a professional. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Examine the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary service-learning.
- Explain the role of the students, faculty and community partners in defining, identifying and practicing professionalism in service-learning.
- Explore strategies to promote professional behaviors and dispositions through an interdisciplinary service-learning project.
Intended Audience: Faculty, Community Partners, Community Service Directors